Ireland’s new blasphemy law
And this ‘blasphemous matter’ is defined as that which ‘is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.’
How are the courts to determine what is grossly abusive or insulting? How is this to be distinguished from that which is merely abusive or insulting?
It is a bizarre development – and one which will have Cranmer’s secularist and atheist readers spluttering and spitting with incredulity – because Ireland presently has no crime of blasphemous libel on the statute books. At the moment it is quite legal to exclaim ‘Saints preserve us!’, but all mention of such terms is about to be subject to the tolerance of the Garda. Blasphemy is currently prohibited by the Constitution, which says: “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” And that which is prohibited by the Irish Constitution is, as it was in the United Kingdom, that which pertains to the church and to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
But Article 40 of the Irish constitution guarantees freedom of speech, particularly that of the ‘organs of public opinion’ – television, radio, cinema and the press.
Who doubts that as the Republic redrafts its constitutional article along the lines of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression shall be diminished?
It is not possible to accord a ‘special’ status for the church or for Christianity in a state which pursues the logical consequences of the prohibition of religious discrimination. Protection for Christianity is manifestly incompatible with religious equality provisions. And when other faiths are raised to the level of Christianity, there will be a steady stream of religio-litigious fanatics who will insist that all literary, artistic, social and academic merit is to be subsumed to the ‘outrage’ the work has ‘caused’. Any play, poem, article, painting, drawing, song, essay, thesis, etc., etc., which is considered to be ‘grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by (insert religion)’ shall be censored.
Ominously, where a person is convicted of an offence under this law, ‘the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them’.
At last, Ireland is moving beyond the confines of Catholic and Protestant, for this is all about Islam, for Muslims still take blasphemy very, very seriously. Asserting that Islam is not a true religion or that Mohammed is not a prophet could soon land one with a very hefty fine of €100,000. If this Bill passes into law, editors are going to have to think long and hard before publishing a cartoon or printing an article by some hard-hitting columnist that Muslims might not like.
Dr Paisley had also better stop referring to the Pope as the Antichrist.
And the more Cranmer thinks about this, it occurs to him that even the declaration that one is Protestant is likely cause great offence in some parts of the Republic. And all mention of potatoes will surely be banned.
Perhaps most ominously, this law would not be limited to the offences committed on Irish peat. Potentially, any EU compositor of 'blasphemous' material that is read by an Irish audience could be affected. The Irish Government could invoke their rights under the EU Arrest warrant to have such a 'criminal' extradited.
Religio-political blogging is becoming a rather dangerous pursuit. And Cranmer has never been to Dublin.